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ClassicsOnline Home » BLOCH: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Suite hebraique
By Steve Holtje
"Violinist Miriam Kramer's tone is vibrato-laden, yet bittersweet, perfectly suited to this repertoire. Pianist Simon Over is a sympathetic accompanist with a finely gradated control of dynamics-especially crucial in the Sonata No. 2. At budget price, and being the only CD containing this well-chosen and logical combination of items, this is highly recommendable."
By Xavier Rey
"...les intelligentes qualités d'expression et d'intonation que [Kramer et Over] nous révèlent dans ce disque nous font espérer un deuxième volume, où pourraient être réunis les Suites pour violon seul, Baal Shem, le Poème mystique et la Nuit exotique.
"... given the intelligent qualities of expression and intonation that [Kramer and Over] reveal in this disc, we look forward to their second volume, which to include the Suites for Solo Violin, Baal Shem, the Mystical Poem and the Exotic Night."
Violin Sonata No.1
Violin Sonata No. 2
A native of Geneva, Ernest Bloch studied violin and composition in
Brussels and Frankfurt. His early music, notably the Symphony in C sharp minor
and the symphonic diptych Hiver-Printemps, echoes Richard Strauss
and the French impressionists, culminating in the lyric drama Macbeth, premièred
at the Paris Opéra Comique in 1910. It was only with the 'Jewish Cycle' of
works written over the next decade, notably the rhapsody Schelomo, that
Bloch achieved his musical identity, transforming material of an overt Hebrew
character into music at once emotionally direct and deeply personal.
The 1920s saw the development of a more compact language, though, as in
the violin sonatas featured on this disc, the underlying 'neo-classical' style
is offset by the music's natural intensity. In 1924 Bloch became an American
citizen, and the epic rhapsody America (1926) and symphonic fresco Helvetia
(1929) are ambitious attempts to redefine his musical heritage in its new
context. The following decade saw several major works, including the Sacred
Service (1933), Voice in the Wilderness (1936) and the Violin
Concerto (1938), which synthesize these facets. The music of his final
years is stylistically varied: certain works go back to traditional Jewish
sources (Suite hébraïque); others pursue the neo-classical line with a
new economy (Second Concerto Grosso), draw on atonality (Sinfonia
breve) or even twelve-note writing (String Quartets Nos. 3-5),
without lessening the spiritual experience which he believed it the composer's
overriding duty to convey.
Bloch's preoccupation with Jewish melodies is at its most pronounced in
the Suite hébraïque, completed in 1950. The pensive Rapsodie is
permeated with its inflections, skilfully absorbed and recreated in the
composer's succinct late style. Processional tempers its underlying
march pulse with a direct eloquence, while Affirmation opens with
dance-like measures, moving through a graceful central section before its
opening idea returns for a decisive final flourish.
Written in 1921, the First Violin Sonata is among the most
powerful of Bloch's large-scale chamber works. Its free-wheeling yet logical
approach to tonality finds intriguing parallels with Bartók's contemporaneous First
Sonata. The opening Agitato opens with a driving, toccata idea, with
a mysterious transition to the second main theme (2'11"), a rapt
Hebrew-inflected melody typical of Bloch at this juncture. The piano maintains
momentum throughout the central section, where the opening material is
developed extensively. The second theme returns withdrawn and distant, before
the opening idea reappears (8'03"), merging into a rhetorical coda that
leaves the anguished mood unresolved. One of Bloch's most haunting melodic
inspirations, the Molto quieto opens with gentle piano arpeggios, over
which the violin spins an unbroken cantilena, drawing in the piano's commentary
as it proceeds. The first climax (3'24") dissolves into an almost Bartókian
desolation, then an agitated strumming, before the expressive discourse
resumes. Tension drains away in the introspective closing pages. The final Moderato
is launched with robust, heavily-chorded dance measures. In what would seem
to be a straightforward rondo movement, a withdrawn episode (3'00")
looks back to, but does not resume earlier conflict. Instead, the music opens
out onto a magnificent plateau of eloquence, derived from the opening
movement's second theme (4'18"). There is a gradual return to the closing
material and mood of the second movement, before the sonata draws to a tranquil
but regretful close (7'57").
The two miniatures date from 1929. There is an understandably
confessional air to Abodah (‘God's Worship’). The supplicatory violin
line, derived from a melody associated with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of
Atonement, is discreetly but pointedly accompanied by the piano, whose opening
figure guides the piece through to the repose of its final bars. Mélodie, almost
Fauré-like in its intimacy, finds the composer in ruminative mood.
Bloch's second violin sonata, Poéme mystique, dates from 1924 and
is among his most coherent and resourceful conceptions. Cast in a single
movement, virtually all its material derives from the unaccompanied initial
eight-note phrase, Szymanowski-like in its yearning eloquence. Mysterious
activity (2'04") heightens the emotional current before a hushed return to
the opening mood. A pungent, folk-like idea (5'03") promises greater
momentum, but calm is again restored. A sense of veiled unease now comes
gradually into focus (9'14"), bringing the first real climax, from where
the violin soars passionately over an ominous left-hand piano tremolo. At
length, a more conciliatory tone is sounded, with the work's most extended
melodic writing (12'57"), before the opening phrase ushers in the ascent
to the work's emotional apex (17'35"), which dissolves in an eloquent
flight of sound. The closing pages sustain this rapt expression, before the
sonata is brought to an unexpectedly urgent close (22'08").
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